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Twentieth Century Fiction
Prof. Avishek Parui
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
Lecture - 36
Mrs. Dalloway - Part 7
(Refer Slide Time: 00:13)
So, hello and welcome to this NPTEL course entitled Twentieth Century Fiction, where we are looking at Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. So, we are beginning to wind up this novel and in this section we will look at some of the representations of medical masculinities in this novel.
By medical masculinity of course, I mean the two medical doctors, the two doctors Holmes and Bradshaw in the novel, who obviously are tyrannical doctors, who exhibit no empathy, who exhibit no kindness to the patients, and instead they talk about proportion, they talk about health, they talk about you know hygiene in a very eugenicscentric kind of a way, right. So, and obviously, the entire gaze they have is very masculinist, is very tyrannically masculinist, right. So, that obviously does not have any degree of empathy in it and it is hyper rationalist as well. So, this typical construction of masculinity as being something informed by rationality, reason, logic, proportions, etcetera is what informs in turn their medical gaze as well, ok.
And we also see how the Big Ben in a novel is interesting because the Big Ben is obviously, the big clock in London, a tower clock in London and it is example of you know standard clock time, right. It is a time which is same for everyone. But the Big Ben you know banging away you know striking out sounds and chiming out the sounds, it has a very symbolic significance in this novel because that obviously, is something which connects all the different characters across the metropolis.
So, in that sense it is a bit of a hyperlink novel, where every narrative is linked to every other narrative in a very complex ways. But the Big Ben seems to be it is very, it is echo of times, this echo of standard clock time, which is spreading across different narratives that the story is exhibiting, ok. So, the Big Ben becomes a very symbolic presence in this novel, being this overarching presence of clock time, which runs the metropolis against which we have different kinds of micro times, different experiences of micro time embodied and exhibited by these human characters, the human figures in this landscape.
So, it was precisely twelve o’clock; and this should be on your screen. It was precisely twelve o’clock; twelve by Big Ben; whose stroke was wafted over the northern part of London; blent with that of all other clocks, mixed in a thin ethereal way with clouds and wisps of smoke, and died up there among the seagulls - twelve o’clock struck as Clarissa Dalloway laid her green dress on her bed, and the Warren Smiths walked down Harley Street. So, Harley Street being this typical medical street that is where all the doctors in London resides. So, it is popularly known as a medical street, the Harley Street where all the hospitals and doctors are.
Twelve was the hour of their appointment. Probably, Rezia thought, that was Sir William Bradshaw’s house with a grey motor car in front of it. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. So, again look at the way in which different machines are represented in this novel, as signifiers of the status, signifiers of velocity, signifiers of accomplishment. So, you know this particular street, Harley Street is obviously very posh wealthy neighbourhood in London and that is where you know Dr. William Bradshaw’s house is and the appointment is in his house.
And there is a car in front of his house, and Rezia, Lucrezia Smith while walking down the house with his with her husband the invalid Septimus Smith, she looks at the car and assumes it is the doctor’s car which obviously goes on to show, that the doctor has made quite a lot of money, lot of wealth by treating his patients.
Indeed it was – Sir William Bradshaw’s motorcar; low; powerful, grey with plain initials interlocked on the panel, as if the as if the pomps of heraldry were incongruous, this man being the ghostly helper, the priest of science; and as the motorcar was grey, so to match its sober suavity, grey furs, silver grey rugs were heaped in it, to keep her ladyship warm while she waited.
So, again look at the way in which the car is humanized, rather feminized, so the car is turned into, or described, represented as a female. So, her ladyship is waiting, Dr. William Bradshaw is the male possessor of the car and we are also told that you know he is a priest of science. So, again science being this high pedestal of knowledge, the highest pedestal of knowledge because it involves proportion, and logic, and rationality and you know William Bradshaw embodies that kind of wisdom, in common vocabulary, in common perspectives. So, you know he becomes the embodiment of hyper rationalist, masculinist achiever, right and the car obviously becomes signifier of that achievement, that professional social status that he enjoys as a doctor, ok.
For often Sir William would travel sixty miles or more down in the country to visit the rich, the afflicted, who could afford the very large fee which Sir William would probably charge would very properly charge for his advice.
(Refer Slide Time: 04:52)
So, again very mercenary quality about medicine is highlighted over here. So, he would travel down sixty miles or more to look at very rich patients. He had really niche clientele of patients, they would be very happy to pay him a huge amount of money because he will be he would give them exclusive service.
Her ladyship waited with the rugs about her knees an hour or more, leaning back, thinking about thinking sometimes of the patients, sometimes, exclusively of the wall of gold, mounting minute by minute while she waited; the wall of gold that was mounting between them and all shifts and anxieties, she had borne them bravely. They had had their struggles until she felt wedged on a calm ocean, where only spice winds blow; respected, admired, envied, with scarcely anything left to wish for, though she regretted her stoutness; large dinner-parties Thursday night to the profession; an occasional bazaar to be opened; Royalty greeted; too little time, alas, with her husband, whose work grew and grew; a boy doing well at Eton; she would have liked a daughter too; interests she had, however, in plenty; child welfare; the after-care of the epileptic, and photography. So, that if there was a church building, or a church decaying she bribed the sexton, got the key and took photographs, which were scarcely to be distinguished from the work of professionals, while she waited.
Now, again look at the way in which suddenly we are talking about the wife of William Bradshaw from the car to the wife. So, again it is very interesting blend of the human and the machine over here. And the car waiting also becomes an example of the human waiting and we saw that happen in Eliot’s Wasteland as well. Remember the taxi throbbing, waiting in this recursive image in Wasteland, while you know human beings are becoming more and more machine in quality.
Now, this section it has a series of markers, metonymic markers of class of you know professional prestige, etcetera and look at the way in which the division, the gendered division happens over here, very neatly. The husband goes and makes money, the wife does amateurist things as the wife is an amateur photographer, the wife is someone who takes care of different causes etcetera.
So, this divide is very neatly and you know it is done in a very heavy-handed gendered way, and we are told that she is also an amateur photographer because whenever she hears that a church is decaying, she bribes the sexton, gets in the church and takes photographs with her camera you know which supposedly just as good as professional photographs, right. But then she has to wait all the time.
So, this whole idea of waiting becomes important, waiting for her husband, waiting for a human communication, waiting for human empathy, waiting for human warmth which never obviously occurs, which never obviously emerges. So, this endless wait for things which do not come, is something which you see in Mrs. Dalloway, well, through these very micro characters; William Bradshaw’s wife you know is one of those characters who are obviously, endlessly waiting for the husband to exhibit some warmth endlessly waiting for the life to exhibit some warmth around her.
But then superficially along the surface, everything is splendid for her she has got a you know boy who is doing well at Eton, she would have liked a girl too, a daughter too, but then of course, they did not have any other children. So, the only boy is in Eton. Eton being obviously a signifier of privileged education, right. So, all the markers of privilege are very carefully strewn over here, ok.
(Refer Slide Time: 08:06)
So, and then we have a characterization of Sir William Bradshaw. Sir, William Sir William himself was no longer young, he had worked very hard; he had won his position by sheer ability being the being the son of a shopkeeper; loved his profession; made a fine figurehead at ceremonies and spoke well - all of which had by the time he was knighted given him a heavy look, a weary look, the stream of patients being so incessant, the responsibilities and privileges of his profession so onerous, which weariness together with his grey hairs, increased the extraordinary distinction of his presence and gave him the reputation of the utmost importance in dealing with nerve cases are not merely of lightening skill, and almost infallible accuracy in diagnosis, but of sympathy; tact; understanding of the human soul.
He could see the first moment they came to the room, the Warren Smiths they were called; he was certainly directly, he was certain directly he saw the man; it was a case of extreme gravity. It was a case of complete breakdown or complete physical and nervous breakdown, with every symptom in an advanced stage. He ascertained in two or three minutes writing answers to questions, murmured discreetly, on a pink card. (Refer Slide Time: 09:05)
So, sympathy is something which is you know ascribed to William Bradshaw. But, of course, there is this degree of irony in it, and the other thing is there is no empathy at all. So, there is a complete lack of empathy, he has sympathy which obviously, something which you exercise from a position of privilege. So, he has lightning skill, has efficiency, has accuracy and along with that he has sympathy. So, he takes a look at the Warren Smiths and immediately diagnoses the problem without even him having opened up.
How long has Dr. Holmes been attending him?
Prescribed a little bromide? Said there was nothing the matter? Ah yes those general practitioner, thought Sir William. It took half his time to undo their blunders. Some were irreparable. So, again there is a conflict, a professional conflict over here, you know they have come from Dr. Holmes, and now he is come to Sir William Bradshaw, and now obviously, because he is a knighted medical practitioner that gives him a sense of privilege and superiority over the general practitioners, right. So, the general practitioner such as Holmes according to Dr. William Bradshaw know nothing at all, ok.
“You served with great distinction in the War?”
The patient repeated the “war” the word “war” interrogatively.
He was attaching meanings to words of a symbolic kind. A serious symptom, to be noted on the card.
“The War?” the patient asked. The European War - that little shindy of schoolboys with gunpowder? Had he served with distinction? He really forgot. In the War itself he had failed.
So, again the war becomes the perfect traumatic landscape for Septimus Smith, in the sense that he fails to remember anything post-war. So, he forgets everything the war absorbs his memory entirely.
“Yes, he served with the greatest distinction,” Rezia assured the doctor; “he was promoted.”
“And they have the very highest opinion of you at your office?” Sir William murmured, glancing at Mr. Brewer’s really generously worded letter. “So, that you have nothing to worry you, no financial anxiety, nothing?”
(Refer Slide Time: 11:02)
He had committed an appalling crime and been condemned to death by human nature.
“I have - I have,” he began, “committed a crime –”
“He has done nothing wrong whatsoever,” Rezia assured the doctor. If Mr. Smith would wait, said Sir Williams, Sir William, he would speak to Mrs. Smith in the next room. Her husband was very seriously ill, Sir William said. Did he threaten to kill himself?
Now, again obviously, this is the quote unquote morbid narcissism of Septimus which is a pathological symptom according to these doctors. Septimus thinks he has committed a crime. And of course, we know that a crime that he has committed is he has killed his feeling, thinking, sentient self, right because he has been trained to do it through a series of rituals, through a series of very manly drills, military martial drills and that is a crime that is committed. It has killed his thinking, feeling self, his sentient self, his affective self, right and that has been a crime according to him, an emotional crime. Of course, the doctor wants to speak with the wife at the moment because he thinks her husband is quite mad. So, he wants a separate word with her. And the obvious question is did he threaten to kill himself.
Oh, he did, she cried. But he did not mean it, she said. Of course not. It was merely a question of rest, said Sir William; of rest, rest, rest; a long rest in bed. This is obviously, the rest cure which is very popular at that point of time, this is a method, a medical method invented by someone called Silas Weir Mitchell who was a doctor, who made a fortune and fame out of this after the Civil War, the American Civil War.
And he was the one who invented the rest cure method, where a patient will be confined to rest, almost coerced to take a rest. And there was a degree of violence in this rest cure method in the sense that the patient will be taken away, be bereft of all agency, right. And a bit of a biographical digression over here, but you know Virginia Woolf herself, suffered the rest cure for a long time in her life. She was made to sit in a confined room and was given a fixed diet every single day. So, the rest cure becomes not just a healing method, but a coercive method. It is an act of coercion where the patient is forced to rest.
There was a delightful home down in the country where her husband would be perfectly looked after. Away from her? She asked. Unfortunately, yes; the people we care for most are not good for us when we are ill. But he was not mad, was he? Sir William said he never spoke of “madness”: he called it not having a sense of proportion. But her husband did not like the doctors.
(Refer Slide Time: 13:23)
He would refuse to go there. Shortly and kindly Sir William explained to her the state of the case. He had threatened to kill himself. There was no alternative. It was a question of law. He would lie in bed in a beautiful house in the country. The nurses were admirable. Sir William would visit him once a week. If Mrs. Warren Smith was quite sure she had no more questions to ask - he never hurried his patients - they would return to her husband. She had nothing more to ask - not of Sir William.
So, look at the, this passage is loaded, is couched with irony. First of all, we see this whole idea of Sir Williams having this whole idea of rest, rest, rest; the repetition of the word - rest it immediately implies a coercive violent quality about this particular medical method. And then of course, the whole idea being away from your loved ones, so you know Septimus is supposed to be away from his wife. And the doctor’s prescription is nearness to the people he is emotionally attached to is bad for him at this point of time.
Why so, because you know this is a simple case of loss of a sense of proportions, everything is very proportion-centric to Dr. Holmes and William Bradshaw over here, everything must be put down into proportion, everything must be boxed, everything must be quantified and quantifiable everything must have a shape and a structure, ok.
And obviously, the next thing which is important for us is to know that because Septimus had threatened to kill himself this becomes not just a medical problem, but a legal problem. So, again we have this very interesting collusion between law and medicine, where the person’s agency you know the patient’s agency is completely disregarded and then what is given instead is an entire template, a tyrannical template of confinement and coercion which is what Septimus is about to be about to suffer at this point of time.
And of course, William Bradshaw asks Mrs. Warren Smith, if there is any more question and there is irony in here, he never hurried his patients. So, again this obviously, carries irony because he is trying to wind up over here they would not return to her husband, they would return to her husband she had nothing more to ask, not of Sir William.
So, again look at the diagnosis at play over here. He does not even talk to the patient. He takes some second-hand information from the patient’s spouse and decides the method of cure for Septimus. So, is a complete disconnect from the experiential reality Septimus is facing the experiential suffering of Septimus, it is complete disconnect and disregard for that experientiality of Septimus; instead what we have in Sir William Bradshaw is a series of template and see in which template does Septimus fit into and a rest cure method of rest, rest, rest method is a template that Septimus is supposedly about to fit into according to Sir William Bradshaw. So, this ‘according to’ being the very important bit, ok.
(Refer Slide Time: 16:08)
So, again he recommends one country home for Septimus’s betterment, one of my homes Mrs. Warren Smith, he said, where we will teach you to rest. So, again look at the way in which this is very complex because in the one hand purely commercially speaking what he is doing is he is making some more money out of Septimus, he is forcing him to go to a home in a guest house which is actually owned by him, right or even attached to him at some level medically speaking. So obviously, Septimus staying there would you know make a payable for, Sir Williams. And the other part is equally interesting perhaps more you know dark and sinister.
He is told, that Septimus is told that Holmes you know William Bradshaw sorry and his team of doctors will teach him to rest. So, where we will teach you to rest. So, this whole idea of teaching someone to rest, it carries a coercive quality in it by default, it carries this tyrannical quality this violent quality in it by default.
(Refer Slide Time: 17:22)
And there was just one more thing, a one thing more, he was quite certain that when Mrs. Warren Smith was well, he was the last man in the world to frighten his wife. But he did talk of killing himself.
“We all have our moments of depression,” said Sir William.
Once you fall, Septimus repeated to himself, human nature is on you, Holmes and
Bradshaw are on you. They scour on the desert. They fly screaming into the wilderness. The rack and the thumbscrew are applied. Human nature is remorseless, right.
So, again this mercilessness, remorselessness of human nature is something which Septimus is experiencing over here. And the fall is important, because the fall carries some different connotations, the biblical connotations, the biological connotations, of course, a medical and existential connotations, Septimus has fallen in his own eyes as a human being because he cannot feel anymore, he has been traumatized by the war, he is consumed so much trauma in the war that he cannot possibly come out of it now.
So obviously, once you fall human nature preys on you, then Holmes and Bradshaw prey on it, they become the predators preying on you and you become a small bird trying to fly away from their pursuit, they scour the desert, they fly screaming into the wilderness.
The rack and the thumbscrew are applied. Human nature is remorseless.
So, rack again is example of medieval torture instrument and the thumbscrew obviously, is the instrument to tie a body to the rack and we saw this rack example this rack image in even Eliot’s early poetry, right where the it becomes the instrument of torture, space of torture. And see, notice over here how medical science, the practitioners of the medical science far from being healing figures they actually become torturing figures they become coercive figures, these are figures who mercilessly attack you the suffering man, ok.
And then of course he gives more man talk and he gives more man spin to Septimus where he says, you have a brilliant career before you, said Sir William. There was Mr. Brewer’s letter on the table. “An exceptionally brilliant career.” So, again look at the way in which the different connections, the different narratives are made. Mr. Brewer who belongs to another narrative, enters this particular narrative through a letter on the table of Sir William when he is talking to Septimus Smith and Rezia Smith, right Rezia Smith.
So, all these different markers of connect are important, little letter over here, you know the Big Ben banging away obviously, and connecting every little space time into one standardized display and sound of time, ok.
(Refer Slide Time: 19:27)
And then of course, whole idea of crime comes up. He tries to remember what crime he had committed, but he could not remember it because of course he had not committed any crime. But he is just fallen in his own eyes as a sentient feeling cell.
But what was his crime? He could not remember it.
“Yes?” said Sir William, encouraged him. But it was growing late.
Love, trees, there is no crime - what was his message?
He could not remember it.
“I – I –” Septimus stammered.
“Try to think as little about yourself as possible,” said Sir William kindly. Really, he was not fit to be about.
Right. So, again this whole idea of morbid introspection or morbid you know selfreflection is something which is discouraged by the doctors over here, because that is accordingly according to the doctors according to the tenets of medical science that will further, that will worsen and aggravate the situation Septimus is already in, ok.
Was there anything else they wished to ask him? Sir William would make all arrangements, he murmured to Rezia and he would let him know between five and six that evening he murmured. So, he will make all the arrangements, obviously, you can see the collusion between tourism, rest cure, and medicine over here. He will send Septimus to one of his own homes, where presumably he will have to pay for that kind of very wealthy and privileged living, ok.
“Trust everything to me,” he said, and dismissed them.
Never, never had Rezia felt so agony, felt such agony in her life. She had asked for help and has been deserted. He had failed them. Sir William Bradshaw was not a nice man.
So, this is the perception Rezia has about the doctor. He is not a nice man, ok.
(Refer Slide Time: 20:51)
So, and then of course, we have William Bradshaw’s you know whole idea of proportion and this should be on your screen.
(Refer Slide Time: 20:57)
Proportion, divine proportion, Sir William’s goddess, was acquired by Sir Williams walking hospitals, catching salmon, begetting one son in Harley Street by lady Bradshaw, who caught salmon herself and took photographs scarcely to be distinguished from the work of professionals. So, again the whole idea of proportion becomes one of - it is a divine design and everyone’s aiming for proportion to give a shape and meaning to their lives.
Worshiping proportion, Sir Williams could not only prosper himself, but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childhood childbirth, sorry, penalised despair, made it impossible for the unfit to propagate their views until they, too, shared his sense of proportion – his, if they were men, Lady Bradshaw’s if they were women, she embroidered, knitted, spent four nights out of seven at home with her son.
So, that not only did his colleagues respect him, his subordinates fear him, but the friends and relations of his patients fell for him the keenest gratitude for insisting that these prophetic Christs and Christesses, who prophesied the end of the world, or the advent of God, should drink milk in bed, as Sir Williams ordered, right.
So, the whole idea proportion becomes interesting and this becomes a very dominant narrative at this point of time. And again, look at the way in which gendered activities are mapped out quite clearly. So, Lady Bradshaw would be embroidering, knitting and you know spending time with the son, whereas, you know Sir William Bradshaw would be curing people and you know using his very proportion centric medical gaze, this very hyper rationalist proportion centric medical gaze, ok.
Sir William with his thirty years of experience of the all these kinds of causes, and his infallible instincts, this is madness, in this sense; in fact, his sense of proportion, right.
So, again proportion comes back.
(Refer Slide Time: 22:45)
But proportion has a sister, less smiling, more formidable, a Goddess even now engaged - in the in the heat and sands of India, the mud and swamp of Africa, the purlieus of purlieus of London, wherever in short the climate or the devil tempts men to fall down from the true belief which is her own - is even now engaged in dashing down shrines, smashing idols, and setting up in their place her own stern countenance. Right. So, again the whole idea of proportion’s sister is mentioned, again these are humanized, these are again pathetic fallacies.
Conversion is her name and she feasts on the wills of the weakly, loving to impress, to impose, adoring her own features stamped on the face of the populace. At Hyde Park Corner on a on a tub she stands preaching; shrouds herself in white and walks in a penitentially disguised as brotherly love through factories and parliaments; offers help, offers help, but desires power; smites out of her way roughly the dissentient or dissatisfied; bestows her blessing on those who, looking upward, catch submissively from her eyes the light of their own. This lady too, Rezia Warren Smith divined it, had her dwelling in Sir Williams’s heart, though concealed, as she mostly is, under some plausible disguise; some venerable name; love, duty, self-sacrifice.
Right. So, the whole idea of conversion becomes, conversion becomes the wife the sister of proportion. But we will see how conversion too is very coercive in quality, ok. It is very you know dissident in quality, but then he is trying to put people together, he is trying to give a shape and a name to the different human experiences and this constant obsession with conversion and proportion that is the Dr. Holmes and Bradshaw exhibit, this is completely the ontological opposite any anathema, to the very fluid experience with Septimus and that is why the incompatibility between Septimus the sufferer, and Holmes and Bradshaw - the supposed doctors of suffering, ok.
(Refer Slide Time: 24:40)
So, we find that the two doctors presented this novel are very interesting characters. They obviously are symptoms, they are the embodiments of the extensions of medical masculinity which is completely inadequate in terms of looking at the shell-shocked soldiers. But were still relying on proportion, logic, rationality and this very quantifiable and empirical evidence which is used for medical practices. But obviously, with shellshock and PTSD and trauma, war trauma, there is no real physical damage done to the sufferer or the subject. Instead what we have is a mental damage an emotional damage and that needs to be addressed which does not get addressed at all by either of the two characters in the novel.
So, I stop at this point today. But this lecture we looked at the different kinds of medical masculinities which are promoted, produced and projected in this particular section. Obviously, as a critique to that kind of masculinity because remember Woolf is writing this novel as a critique of medical masculinity, which is hyper rationalist, proportional of a medical masculinity which is something which is completely opposite and anathema to the idea of art, to the idea of experience, to the idea of affectivity, right. So, affect becomes something that is whole that is held on to.
And Septimus of course, his biggest brutality, his biggest casualty is his loss of affect, then the fact that he has lost all his emotions and cannot connect to any emotion around him at all. And then of course, he is at the hands of this merciless medical doctors who are relying on proportions, who have this over reliance in proportion, and who essentially confine him and coerce him into taking rest, you know rest, rest, rest. So, rest becomes you know a medical method which is becomes which almost becomes very quickly a coercive method that Septimus is subjected to as a war veteran, as a war trauma survivor, right.
So, I stop at this point today. And hopefully by the next lecture, we should be able to wind up with this essay with this particular book Mrs. Dalloway.
I thank you for your attention.